Chapter 47 Intro

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CHAPTER 47: Introduction.

Bach composed few cantatas after the 1720s and several that he did were chorale/fantasias, essays on which may be found in vol 2, part 2. This section of vol 3 is principally devoted to late works and the three oratorios which one might think of as expanded cantatas composed for particular liturgical purposes.

Scholars differ as to whether the Easter and Ascension Oratorios should be properly classed as cantatas, but for many the arguments may seem pedantic and non-illuminative. They are large and commanding works but no more so than several of the two-part cantatas that Bach presented in the first and third Leipzig cycles. They are, however, conceived from different standpoints, a fact reflected in their diverse structures. But then the range of cantata formats which Bach developed, particularly in his early Leipzig years, was so wide and divergent that it is a brave person who would declare boldly ‘this, by virtue of its form is a cantata, but this is not!’

The Christmas Oratorio is not a single composition but a group of six discrete cantatas, each intended to be performed on specific days of the celebratory period. Whether Bach viewed them as a single structural entity is unclear, particularly as so many movements were paraphrased from existing secular works. The fact that there are six of them may well have significance apart from the Christmas days for which they were assembled. Many of Bach′s compositions e.g. keyboard suites, partitas, Brandenburg Concerti, solo violin and cello sonatas were composed in groups of six, the implication being that, whilst they had obvious points of relationship, any one could be extracted and performed individually.

This section also includes reference to C 191, an oddity in that it is the only cantata Bach produced with a Latin text. Detailed comment on it is unnecessary because of its use of movements better known within the context of the Bm Mass.

C 51 is another work which stands outside the normal canon, a virtuosic and enduringly popular piece for (an exceptional) boy soprano or a woman, possibly even Bach′s second wife. Cs 34 and 130 sit more within the conventional repertoire, although each has markedly individual characteristics. All three are works of outstanding quality.

The volume ends with brief comments upon the fragments of three cantatas Cs 50, 200 and 1045, a chorus, an aria and a sinfonia surviving, respectively, from each.

Copyright: J Mincham 2010.  Revised 2012, 2014, 2017.